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A helping hand to those in need

Feb 16, 2015 10:16AM ● Published by Kerigan Butt

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

Polly Sierer’s volunteer activities are so extensive that she’s doing something to provide assistance to virtually every segment of the population that needs it.

“I’ve always wanted to help people who are less fortunate,” said Sierer, who is a rainmaker for charitable causes, using her background in marketing and her management skills to unite the efforts of community partners to help Newark area families who are in crisis.

As the president of the Newark Area Welfare Committee, Sierer helps carry out the organization’s mission of neighbors helping neighbors. The populations served include the working poor, seniors, disabled people, veterans, American Legion members, National Guard members, and single-parent families.

Sierer, a Newark resident for the last 24 years, said that it was an eye-opening experience when she started working with the Newark Area Welfare Committee seven years ago because she couldn’t believe how many people in the community lacked basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing.

“It was unbelievable,” she said. “I could not believe that there were 400 people in town who needed food. It’s not something that comes to mind when you look at this nice college town with the nice Main Street, but there’s a lot of need out there. I think everybody deserves a second or third chance to achieve a better life. I also think some people have never had a chance based on their upbringing. I’m a big believer in young people. If we don’t help them when they are in crisis or in need, the next generation will have problems.”

Sierer is also involved with the Newark Empowerment Center, the Hope Dining Room, the Friends House of Wilmington, Peace Zones, and the Newark Senior Center, but most of her community service is focused on the Newark Area Welfare Committee.

“I spend a large amount of time with the Newark Area Welfare Committee,” she said, explaining that the organization is run entirely by volunteers and does not have a home of its own. Volunteers work out of their own homes and the Newark United Methodist Church donates space for the food cupboard.

Founded more than 80 years ago, the Newark Area Welfare Committee was a Depression-era answer to a societal problem. Etta Wilson started collecting canned goods to give to a neighbor who had lost a job—despite the fact that Wilson herself had only meager resources. As more people in the community lost their jobs during those economically desperate times, neighbors started banding together to offer food and clothing to those who needed it. The Newark Area Welfare Committee continues that mission today, helping more than 2,500 people last year.

“We have very few repeat clients,” Sierer said. “We’re helping folks who are trying to turn things around. We help people get on the right track.”

Sierer credited the team of about 225 dedicated volunteers with making the good works of the Newark Area Welfare Committee possible. About 35 of those volunteers are responsible for most of the activities.

“Our volunteers contribute time, talent, money, and supplies in order to assure that the families in need don’t go without food, heat, medicine, or shoes that they need,” Sierer said.”The main focus of all our programs is that we help the working poor. We help people who have lost their jobs or people who work two minimum wage jobs. Many of the people we help are single mothers, the elderly, or the elderly who are raising grandchildren.”

In 2012, the Newark Area Welfare Committee’s food cupboard program served 356 families, providing three meals a day for a week to 581 adults and 405 children. When clients are referred to the Newark Area Welfare Committee by the Hudson State Service Center, a team of volunteers are on call to serve them.

“We are one of the few food cupboards in the area that has perishable food,” Sierer said.

The Newark Area Welfare Committee also has an emergency assistance program that provides money to individuals or families who need immediate financial help for shelter, heat, or transportation. Last year, more than $69,000 was disbursed, giving aid to 359 adults and 249 children so that they could pay their rent or utilities, make a mortgage payment, spend the night in a hotel, or purchase bus tickets.

During the holidays, the organization coordinates the efforts of church groups, businesses, schools, and service clubs to put together and give away 391 heavy boxes of food that are given to local families in need. The boxes contained canned and boxed food, fresh fruit and vegetables, margarine, bread, and a frozen turkey. Overall, the food project provided more than 30,000 pounds of food to 1,373 people, including 743 adults and 634 children.

Val’s Needy Family Fund, which continues in memory of its founder Val Nardo, remains an important part of the Newark Area Welfare Committee. Val’s Needy Family Fund has been feeding families in the Newark area since 1968. It supplied 419 cases of canned goods as part of a Christmas food program last year and supports the meals on Wheels at the Newark Senior Center.

According to Sierer, collecting food has become the organization’s forte. “We are tremendously successful at collecting food so we share the food with other organizations,” she said.

The organization's shoe program has become larger in recent years to meet a growing need in the community.

“We are seeing a significant increase in the need for shoes,” Sierer said. “We collect financial contributions because we don’t have the room to store the shoes.”

Approximately $12,000 was spent last year to purchase shoes for 411 children and 139 adults in need. Help for this program comes from a variety of sources. The Wilmington Flower Market provided a grant for $4,000. Payless Shoes and Kmart are cooperating merchants for the program. Referral agencies are the Emmaus House, Hudson State Service Center, the Office of Hispanic Ministry at St. John’s Holy Angels, Newark Empowerment Center, and nurses from several schools in the area.

Earlier this year, Sierer was one of the recipients of Newark’s Jefferson Award because of her efforts in helping others.

“I really accepted the award on behalf of the organization,” she said. “If we didn’t have all these volunteers, we wouldn’t be successful.”

Sierer said that because the Newark Area Welfare Committee is all-volunteer and has no office, about 98 percent of what gets collected goes to helping those in need. That’s possible because of the donations it receives from businesses, churches, and the community. King Medical Systems, for example, donated printed materials. Office Movers donates boxes each year for the holiday program. The M I Group donates moving trucks. Fairfield Apartments donates storage space.

She said that she is constantly amazed at the level of help that the community gives to the Newark Area Welfare Committee.

“Newark is a community that, if asked, will help. If you ask Newark residents for financial contributions or their time, they will help. And that’s a beautiful thing. It’s a real grass-roots effort. It’s not the federal government or a state agency. It’s people in Newark who are compassionate toward their neighbors.”

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, e-mail editor@chestercounty.com.

Help at the holidays

Newark Area Welfare Committee volunteers will soon be hard at work on the holiday food box program. Polly Sierer, the organization’s president, said that they are always in need of more volunteers. Anyone interested in helping out should contact her at pasierer@comcast.net. More information is available at www.newarkareawelfare.org.

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